Motorcycle Training Courses - Getting Schooled - School Is In!

And it's time you signed up

Many-and perhaps most-of you have never taken a rider-education course. There you go, zipping around your city, state and beyond, never questioning your motorcycling skills. Who taught you to ride? What were their qualifications? How many bad habits and misconceptions about motorcycle riding did you pick up? Or are you self-taught? A little learning, indeed!

All is not lost, though, as there are several programs being taught around the country with a few levels of curricula. "But," you protest, "I did take a new-rider course. I know how to execute the right maneuver in all circumstances." Funny you should say that: Unless you're out riding more than a few times a month and practicing those skills and safety techniques, that information will drift away and your reactions in an emergency may not be the right ones. Plus, if you have taken a beginner course you're probably ready for the next step-an experienced-rider course where you'll learn advanced skills and techniques. Experienced courses are also great for refreshing your skills, particularly after a winter's layoff.

There's more to be gained by taking a course than just the skills you'll learn. In most states showing proof of completion of an approved rider-education course qualifies you for a motorcycle license test waiver. Also, many insurance companies offer a discount on your insurance premium if you successfully complete a riding course.

For the true motorcycle novice and those who've never attended a course, we heartily recommend taking either the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse or Rider's Edge New Rider Course. You'll be taught what to wear when riding and the proper way to operate a motorcycle, as well as learning about motorcycle safety. About one-third to one-half of the course is taught in the classroom, with the remainder outside on the bikes. MSF courses usually provide easy-to-handle 250cc motorcycles for students, while the Harley-Davidson-run Rider's Edge course uses lightweight Buell Blast bikes.

As for riding gear, the MSF and Rider's Edge require students to wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, full-fingered gloves, long pants, and boots or shoes that cover the ankle. The MSF provides helmets for the Basic RiderCourse, and Rider's Edge requires students to bring their own DOT-approved helmet. Both courses recommend that students bring sunglasses, drinking water and snacks. Add rain gear to the list if the weather looks iffy. We also suggest that you have a pen and paper with you to take notes. For the MSF's Experienced RiderCourse and Rider's Edge's Skilled Rider Course, you'll need your own helmet and motorcycle.

For the truly experienced rider with at least two years of riding experience, Lee Parks, a former roadracer, offers the Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic. The skills taught are useful in all riding situations and are an excellent next step after the other experienced-rider courses. Students must have a DOT-approved helmet, motorcycle jacket and pants, over-the-ankle boots and provide their own vehicle.

So there you have it-what you need to do to increase your survival skills and confidence on your motorcycle while also enhancing the riding experience. Simply put, it pays to be educated.


Going to the Rider's Edge and Back

By Renee McGinty
Photos By Jim Moy

Fifteen years ago I was a California girl learning to ride dirt bikes in the sand. Then I landed a dream job as an advertising salesperson for Motorcyclist, ensuring me a future on two wheels. Or so I thought.A cross-country relocation, 11 years of marriage and two kids later, my visions of twisty roads turned into conference calls and stroller derbies. So when I got the chance to sample Harley-Davidson's Rider's Edge Academy of Motorcycling, I jumped.

Rider's Edge is Harley-Davidson's proprietary rider-education/certification course. Established in 2000, the course is now offered in 40 states at authorized Harley dealerships. You can choose from three levels based on your experience: the New Rider Course, the Rider's Edge Skilled Rider Course or the Rider's Edge/Motorcycle Safety Foundation Guide to Group Riding.

Prerequisites include the ability to ride a bicycle and appropriate gear-a DOT-approved helmet, protective eyewear, long pants, ankle-high boots, full-fingered gloves and a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. Students should also have a motorcycle learner's (M class) permit.

As I had never ridden a bike on the street, the New Rider Course was the obvious choice for me and my friend Cat, who also works in the industry. Both of us wanted to get firsthand experience in the sport that consumes our work lives. Another classmate, Carol, had just purchased a used Harley and wanted to learn how to ride. Brothers Steve and Dan were looking to build their riding skills. Chris registered to get a 15 percent discount on his motorcycle insurance, and veteran motorcyclists Keith and Jason signed up to obtain M classification Illinois motorcycle licenses.

The Rider's Edge Academy of Motorcycling is two evenings of classroom instruction followed by two full days of riding. The trainers took us through the curriculum in the MSF Basic RiderCourse Handbook and a handful of road-course exercises. Rider's Edge differs from the MSF course mostly in its emphasis on the Harley-Davidson brand.

The riding portion of the class, for instance, takes place on 492cc Buell Blasts, and more than one student mentioned the more powerful bike as a factor in choosing Rider's Edge over the MSF course, which offers 250cc trainers. The New Rider Course also allows you to take the state motorcycle license test at the dealership-on the same range with the same bikes. When you factor in the professionalism of the instructors and all the comfort and conveniences, the $325 price tag seems like a good deal.

Our husband-and-wife instructor team were both Rider's Edge and MSF certified (as are all Rider's Edge instructors), and they placed the emphasis both in the classroom and on the range on skill development within a framework of safety. Classroom instruction included learning acronyms such as the proper pre-startup procedure, TCLOCS (Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights and electrics, Oil and other fluids, Chassis and Stands), as well as MSF's SEE (See, Evaluate and Execute) strategy for planning and implementing a course of action while riding. We also learned about risk awareness and protective gear.

On the range the course curriculum was divided into 16 lessons, covering skills from simple cornering to swerving techniques to my nemesis: the figure-eight U-turn. Each lesson had a strategy, a purpose and, most importantly, a real-world application. After every run-through students were given one-on-one feedback, with a group debriefing period at the end of each session.

All of that prepared us for the riding exams on Sunday afternoon. In the classroom we took the 50-question MSF written exam, a multiple-choice test that assessed our knowledge of MSF Basic RiderCourse material. On the range we were tested on basic skills, including cornering, U-turns, swerves, quick stops and 135-degree turns. The Rider's Edge road test is supposed to be similar but more challenging than the state test, and I felt pretty prepared-even if I wasn't too confident in tight, first-gear U-turns. The moment of truth would come the next day when we took our motorcycle license tests.

When the first three students bogged on their first attempt I started to worry. Testers are only allowed 10 points worth of mistakes, such as stalls (one point), riding out of bounds and the like. If you drop a bike you're done. My "ride the clutch" strategy paid off, and I passed with five points off for going out of bounds once. I was thrilled. I may have taken the long way around, but after more than a decade in this industry I can now legitimately call myself a motorcyclist. Some would argue that I need to get it out of third gear before I can make that claim, but the switch has been flipped and I don't see it being turned off anytime soon.

Experience for the experienced

By Evan Kay
Photos By Lee Parks

Long ago I learned a philosophy about training courses. If you leave the course having learned-or remembered-at least one new thing, then it was worth the time and expense. And when it comes to motorcycle riding education you simply cannot know too much or be too skilled. Fortunately Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic is just the right tool to teach experienced riders some new tricks and maybe remind them of some old ones.

Total Control ARC is taught both in the classroom and on a range (a.k.a. a large, open parking lot). And it is a long day, too, starting at 8 a.m. and running until 6 p.m. As we were called in to class at the start of the day I was surprised to see that half of the 18 students were on some sort of cruiser or touring motorcycle, from a Star V-Star Silverado to an H-D Electra Glide Classic and a Honda Gold Wing. Student ages ranged from late 20s to late 50s, with the average around 40 years old with five to seven years of riding experience.

The course I attended was taught by Lee Parks, its creator, and two other instructors. Parks has managed to break down all aspects of the riding process so that students receive the information in discrete, easy-to-digest bits. His ability to take complex ideas-such as leaning to the inside of a turn to change a motorcycle's center of gravity-and explain them in ordinary terms is remarkable. Later in the day there was a session specifically on motorcycle suspension, where Parks showed the students examples of bikes with good suspension and others that would benefit from upgrades, the visual demonstrations complementing the information. Students were welcome to ask questions at the end of each classroom session and while on the range, all of which were thoroughly answered by Parks and the staff.

After each classroom session students donned their gear and headed out to the range to practice the lessons taught in class. Before jumping into the exercises-which involved high lean angles-Total Control made it a point for the students to warm up their motorcycles' tires by circling the perimeter of the range for a few minutes. One of the instructors first demonstrated each exercise for the class, and then students made several passes around courses laid out with tennis-ball halves to practice the exercise. After every pass an instructor provided constructive feedback and positive reinforcement. Here again was something that Total Control excelled at: I never saw a facial expression or body posture from a student showing confusion or resentment over an instructor's comments. It would also be difficult to find more enthusiastic instructors than Lee and his staff.

Total Control goes beyond the usual accelerate-and-stop or look-and-turn-here exercises, focusing on each small physical element involved in a turn and putting them together one by one. The result is not just increased cornering skills but greater confidence in the individual student's own riding ability. A few students had been in accidents over the previous year, and every one stated that after taking the class they no longer feared entering corners or running out of room while going too fast.

As for me, I was reminded to look far down the road while going through turns and to relax while scraping the footpegs. And because more than one lesson was learned there, I'd say that Total Control is a worthwhile course for all experienced riders.